I just learned about a regionalism I hadn’t been aware of: “Do what?” as an equivalent of “excuse me?” or “pardon me?” when someone says something you didn’t catch. According to this AskMetaFilter thread it’s native to the Texas hill country, North Carolina, and Alabama; any of you from other areas know and/or use it?


  1. Anonymous says

    This is common in Northeast Texas as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is found throughout the South.

  2. I grew up in North Carolina, and I’ve certainly heard it used. I’d say it’s still a pretty informal usage, though. You probably wouldn’t say it to your professor or, say, your grandmother. It’d be interesting to see if it was particularly regional within North Carolina, though. I wonder if anyone has suggested it to Walt Wolfram. 🙂

  3. Very, very common in south Louisiana.

  4. I grew up in Colorado and heard “do what?” on occasion, mostly from non-Coloradans, who were then made fun of for saying this. I currently work with a native Alabaman who says it sometimes. But I agree with Dana, it seems to be for casual convos, a bit like “gonna” & “dunno.”

  5. *raises hand* North Carolina. I’m working on importing it to Wisconsin.

  6. I suspect it is used in many parts of the south. I have heard it used in rural Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina.
    It is often used when the speaker finds an utterance (often a request?) unintelligible or unexpected.

  7. Seth Morabito says

    My college roommate from Virginia said “Say again?” all the time, which confused the hell out of me when I first heard it.

  8. My stepfather says “Do what?” all the time. Actually, to be more accurate, his version is “Do what now?” and he’s a native Minnesotan. But to be fair, he’s also been a truck driver most of his life, so I guess I’d assume that he picked it up in his travels, except for the fact that his immediate family also says it. They’re the only people I know here in Minnesota who say it; I know that much.

  9. North Carolinian here, and, yes, I know it (and use it from time to time). Never noticed it was regional, actually.

  10. I recall a Monty Python record with a song called “Do What John?” and lo Google delivers:

  11. I’m relatively certain that it’s used across the south. I grew up in Arkansas and it’s used frequently there, and I agree with the previous poster that it is indeed on the level of casual speech.

  12. A yes for Picayune, Mississippi (at least 25 years ago). I imagine it stems from people saying they are going to do something that seems implausible to the listener, and from there, expanded into a general statement meaning excuse me. It would be interesting to know if there are any constraints on what statements it can be applied to. Perhaps
    I’m going to drive to Gulfport.
    Do what?
    but not
    I feel sick.
    *Do what?
    I am tempted to say that ‘Say what?’ fulfills a similar function, but I’m not really sure if I’m just making that up.

  13. The “say again?” individual is probably a pilot or the offspring of a pilot. Because air traffic phraseology is so strict, and becomes so ingrained, code switching from “say again?” and “standby,” back to “pardon me?” and “could you wait a moment please?” is very difficult.

  14. Pretty common among South Louisville, KY teens about 30 years-ago. I rarely hear it since I’ve left high school.
    Come to think of it I haven’t heard “do what” as much since the Ohio Players “Love Rollercoaster” was popular — about 1975. Since then I hear “say what?” as much as “excuse me?” or “pardon me?”

  15. John Kozak says

    Found in London, as well.

  16. Definitely heard in Northern Virginia, but my sense is it’s an import. I don’t say it, except when I’m clowning.

  17. Very common in England. I hate it!

  18. West Virginia, too, for what it’s worth.

  19. I’m a Hill Country native. We use “Do what?” in the way you describe — so often that “excuse me?” sounds really snooty by comparison — but “Do what now?” is usually an expression of extreme disbelief. Like Naomi, I never realized this was a regional thing.
    Caitlín Kiernan was just commenting on this the other day, oddly enough. Evidently it’s common in Georgia.

  20. Thanks to everyone for the extremely enlightening responses; it certainly seems to be widespread in the South, and since it’s found in Arkansas and Oklahoma you’d think I’d be familiar with it from my father’s side of the family, but I’m not. I’m quite surprised at its use in England, since it’s unlikely to have been imported via the media (if Brits had been exposed to it that way, so would I) and it seems an unlikely expression to have developed independently. MM, is it really used the same way (to replace “Excuse me?” when you don’t understand someone)?

  21. rustcellar says

    Heard occasionally in Atlanta, but we have enough imported accent that I don’t know what that means.

  22. I’m also from the hill country area. I’ve heard it often enough, but I wouldn’t say it is extremely common. I tend to say ‘What’s that?’ or ‘What’s up?’ more than anything else when I didn’t fully hear/understand something. I hear ‘Excuse me?’ used most often to indicate that one has been offended by something (i.e. ‘Chomsky is the most important American thinker.’ ‘Excuse me?’).

  23. we have it in Dallas, certainly; i believe it is perceived as “Ebonic”, whether or not that is the case.

  24. I was amused to realize that I, a book editor, say this sometimes – “Do WHAT now?” – without ever giving it a second thought. I think I would say it only to my husband, who also grew up in Alabama, and only in moments of exasperation, when he’s saying something that seems absurd or incomprehensible.
    Since it seems to be heard mainly in the South and in England, could it be based on a bit of old English dialect, brought to the South by early English immigrants and preserved there by the South’s relative isolation, like some other oddities of Southern speech?

  25. I’d never heard of it until that AskMe thread, either — very interesting. It reminds me of the Mexican expression “mande” (“order me”), which is used in contexts where other Spanish speakers would use “que?” (“What?”).
    The pragmatic force of “mande” and “do what?” seems to be the same: one asks to be told what to do. It’s very deferential — the expression suggests that whatever utterance one has failed to hear is an order.

  26. In Missouri, I occasionally hear “do what?” from the rural side of my family (the same side that pronounces “tire” close to “tar”). I never use it myself, though — “say what?” is more common among the non-rural folk.

  27. Someone over at AskMe commented: “It’s used where I live too, in the Fens in East Anglia in the UK. The meaning is slightly different though, as it’s used as an exclamation of surprise, as in “Did I hear that right?” or “I don’t believe it!”
    Interesting: perhaps that supports for my idea (in previous comment) that maybe there’s an old English connection?

  28. I’ve heard it in rural Oregon, (which got a lot of immigration from the South during the Depression), but only rarely.

  29. Very common all over Southern and Central Illinois and Southeast Missouri. I use it all the time.

  30. Michael Farris says

    “It reminds me of the Mexican expression “mande” (“order me”)”
    I actually though “mande” meant something more like “send (to) me” as in “send that message to me again, it didn’t get through the first time”.
    I was taught to say “?como?” when I didn’t understand something and that “?que?” sounded common or rude. Actual contact with Spanish speakers though indicated to me that “?que?” is pretty widely used in many countries.

  31. Pretty common among my grandparents’ and parents’ generations in Southern Indiana, but I don’t use it. Now that I live in NYC, I don’t think I ever hear it, but maybe I just don’t notice it.

  32. Another product of Louisville, Ky., resident there from 1980-1991, is proud to report intimate acquaintance with “Do what?”.
    On the topic of “huh?” in Spanish: we hosted an exchange student from Mexico when I was in high school, and he said “Que cosa?” a lot. (Sorry for the lack of accents.) It confused the heck out of me. Until I looked in a dictionary and figured out it was yet another way to ask for clarification, I kept repeating to him the last noun I had used, thinking he had meant “What thing?”

  33. Yes, it’s used that way, as ‘excuse me?’, totally out of the blue without any reason for the verb. And it can’t be imported from the USA. I heard it first when I was about 16. I realized it just wasn’t used in our family. It is also often criticized – it often goes with an irritated tone of voice and sounds like ‘If you are asking me to do something, I’m not going to, and I’m not interested in what you’ve got to say anyway’, although apparently some people use it without meaning it negatively.
    Incidentally, in Britain ‘What’s up?’ used to mean and possibly still does, ‘What’s wrong?’, which I think is different in the USA.
    I thought ‘Excuse me?’ when you don’t understand someone was a Britishism?

  34. No, we say that here too. When you’re a kid and you say “What?” your parents say “That’s not polite, dear—say ‘Excuse me.'”

  35. I don’t believe “Do what?” and its cousin “Say what?” both meaning “What did you say?” are Ebonic. Though I’m white, I work in a school that’s 80% black, and am immersed in varieties of black vernacular English all the time. I do remember hearing these expressions as a college student when I got a job in a restaurant staffed by mostly white southerners with modest educations plus some university part-timers. Do what and say what were expressions my Northern Jewish relatives would never use, so my limited horisons were broadened.

  36. Though I’m hardly an expert in Britishisms, I know that my few ESL students who have had British English training routinely use “Sorry?”, with an upward question intonation at the end. I personally don’t like it and want to say “What are you sorry about?” but refrain. That “sorry?” may well could be (I used a double modal!!)a Britishism.

  37. I have to agree with Toby. Do what? and Say what? in my experience have nothing to do with race. Maybe there is a class distinction, but having little contact with the gentry I wouldn’t know though experience.

  38. I recall now one of my sergeants, an African-American “raised up” in rural Alabama, would respond to me with “Do what now?” sometimes when I proposed a task or requested and action from him. I never thought twice about it, maybe because I might have been trained to speak quickly and briefly, keep verbiage simple. However I don’t believe I ever spoke that myself, having grown up in an Anglo-Irish and Catholic immigrant parish in a Wasp Middle-West town.
    I’d say it’s probably a rural working-class expression.
    As to “say again” –it’s used in the Army, in communications speech. Since the Air Force developed from the old Army Aviation branch, the pilots inherited that as the standard commo jargon. What I find odd is that I hear my wife using that expression, and wonder if she got it from me. We had been an Army family for six years.

  39. In repsonse to Toby’s last post, here in Australia “Sorry?” is very common and definitely acceptable in polite conversation. It’s an automatic response for me, I don’t even realise I’m saying it.
    “Do what?” sounds as alien to me as “Sorry?” does to Toby. I can’t get it sounding right in my head. I’ve never heard it in Australia, I think I’d probably respond with “Sorry?” if I ever heard someone say it.

  40. West Virginia’s Hasil “Haze” Adkins does The Do What Now:

  41. It sounds perfectly natural to me, up here in British Columbia. I can’t recall any specific instances of I or other people saying it, however. I think I always just say “What?”

  42. I thought “do what” was the response to a command you didn’t understand, and “say what” was the response to a comment you didn’t understand (or else just “what”).
    I’ve also heard both “sorry” and “excuse me” used when you didn’t understand someone, but find that I do have to be careful of the tone of “excuse me” or else people misunderstand.
    That’s the word from northeastern WV.

  43. Rupert Goodwins says

    I can remember Do What? from my schooldays in Plymouth (um… late 70s, early 80s) and certainly heard it subsequently in London and Cambridge. So it’s not uncommon in southern and eastern England, albeit with the sense of “What? I don’t believe it” and some resonance with “You WHAT?”. As has been mentioned, Sorry? is ubiquitous over here as shorthand for “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you said”.
    As for Say again?, this is standard radio technique and is taught as such in the military (I presume also in civilian air traffic control, but don’t know). The correct usage is “Say again all after ‘grid reference'” or whatever the last piece of intelligable communication was, and you reply with “I say again” followed by the missing chunk.

  44. I grew up in Ohio and now live in northern Kentucky. I occasionally hear people say “Do what?” but it seems to only be when the person is expressing extreme surprise or disbelief at what has just been said. I generally say “I’m sorry?” in a questioning tone when I have not heard someone clearly, and I know many people who say “Excuse me?” or “Pardon?”

  45. Hi LH. Yes, here in Oklahoma most native Okies and Texans I know regularly use “do what” as in “please clarify that”.
    You ever hear of “tump”. As in “don’t swing too high or you’re liable to tump the swingset over”. Or its past tense, “Damn, the swingset tumped over again”.
    One I don’t get is “you-uns”. Some cousins from California moved back recently and they use it alot. I get the “you” part but am stumped where in the world “uns” fits in.

  46. John Cunningham says

    I grew up in Cincinnati, and I recall hearing “do what” somewhat commonly from people who had come from Appalachia.

  47. Kirk,
    Tump! We used to say that as children (in Alabama) but I don’t think I’ve heard or used it since. That one word brought a rush of memories: swingsets and bug dronings and long lazy hot summer days.
    But I’ve never heard anyone say “you-uns” (though I’ve seen it written). Not in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, or Virginia – the places I’ve lived. Maybe it came from “you ones”? As another way of creating a plural form of “you” (like “y’all”).

  48. Just today here in Shenandoah County I heard it twice in a half-hour conversation, once where it meant disbelief (response to a joke – the ferrier didn’t believe the horse-trainer feeds them mustard oil), and once where it meant non-comprehension.

  49. Kirk,
    My mother uses that expression all the time, but she contracts it to “yuns” (rhymes with “sons”). Her parents grew up in Appalachia and she grew up in Ohio. It’s akin to y’all, as Lin mentioned.

  50. Just to be clear, I was referring to Do what? and not to tump, which I’ve never heard, nor to you-uns neither.

  51. Frylock: He needs his brain or else he’s just going to float around saying ‘do what now.’
    Meatwad: Do what now?
    –from the TV show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”

  52. mauralabingi says

    “Do what, now?” is a very common interrogative statement in the South Carolina lowcountry.

  53. Paul Metzger says

    It’s very, very commonly used here in Eastern Oklahoma. I’ve said it all my life.

  54. Indiana!!! We all say it anymore…seems to be a crowd-pleaser…lol

  55. Rhonda Smith says

    I come from Australia and I had never heard it before but it comes across as being very rude.

  56. January First-of-May says

    The whole “rudeness” divide reminds me of Russian чего? – which is considered colloquial and slightly rude – as opposed to more traditional что? (literally “what”).
    I’m not sure how to explain the literal meaning difference in English, however.

  57. Is there a literal meaning difference? I thought it was just a difference in register (as you say, colloquial and slightly rude).

  58. marie-lucie says

    MF: I was taught to say “?como?” when I didn’t understand something and that “?que?” sounded common or rude.

    Similarly, as children my sisters and I were corrected if we said Quoi? (what?) and told to say Comment? (lit. ‘how?) in order to be polite. But to me Comment? was grownup talk, not something any children should be expected to say.

    I think that as an adult I would say Comment? to ask a person to repeat something I did not catch, but Quoi? (with extra stress) if I heard something hard to believe. But younger people might have different standards.

    In English, What? sounds OK if informal to me (as opposed to more formal What did you say?), but Do what? sounds completely strange to me (living in Atlantic Canada).

  59. January First-of-May says

    Is there a literal meaning difference? I thought it was just a difference in register (as you say, colloquial and slightly rude).

    The “literal meaning difference” I was referring to is basically that что is in the nominative and чего is not. That’s it, I think (not sure why I thought it’s hard to explain in English, other than because English doesn’t really use case so much).

  60. Ah, gotcha. Thanks!

  61. Very common in London England but mostly among older generation. Not rude just informal. Not sure about other parts of UK

  62. In England it began as a Cockney phrase, but seems to have gravitated to the rest of England (probably from us watching Only Fools and Horses – amongst other TV programmes). I’m from Northwest England (though I currently live in USA), and it’s an expression I tend to use often.

  63. Southern Illinois. Like south of Route 80. It’s awful.

  64. I’m familiar with the “do what now” variant through the internets (as an L2 speaker). So far it has not registered as particularly regional to me. But I have also gotten the impression it’s used less for outright failing to hear someone and more as a reaction to surprizing information, to request for more info or to confirm you indeed heard right. Maybe this use is more widespread?

  65. In the UK, it’s an old-fashioned exclamation most often associated with working-class districts of London. The 1980s TV crime caper ‘Minder’ used to feature it quite regularly – usually when one of the characters was vexed about something or couldn’t believe their ears (“Do wot!!??”). Not that dissimilar from “you what?”, although far less common.

  66. Though the British parlour game of U versus non-U is only of historical interest nowadays, Alan S. C. Ross’s observations from 1954 are amusing enough to deserve being quoted:

    Pardon! is used by the non-U in three main ways: — (1) if the hearer does not hear the speaker properly; (2) as an apology (e.g. on brushing by someone in a passage); (3) after hiccuping or belching. The normal U-correspondences are very curt, viz. (1) What? (2) Sorry! (3) [Silence], though, in the first two cases, U-parents and U-governesses are always trying to make children say something ‘politer’; — What did you say? and I’m frightfully sorry are certainly possible.

    A. S. C. Ross. 1954. Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 55: 113-149.

  67. In the UK, it’s an old-fashioned exclamation most often associated with working-class districts of London.

    Interesting, thanks.

    Alan S. C. Ross’s observations from 1954 are amusing enough to deserve being quoted

    Great stuff!

  68. Jim Parish says

    From a 1974 political cartoon, just after the resignation of Richard Nixon:

    Gerald Ford: I’m sorry you had to resign. I wish there was something I could do to make it better.
    Nixon: Pardon?
    Ford: I said, I wish there was something I could do.
    Nixon: Pardon?
    Ford: I SAID..,,.

  69. Joan Chrislip says

    The guide books say that here in Cincinnati, many people say “please?” when they need something repeated. It’s supposed to come from people whose ancestors came from Germany, who just translated “bitte?” You do hear “please,” occasionally, but “do what?” is much more prevalent here. I never heard it once in the 40-plus years I lived in Seattle.

  70. Or as Nixon sang it, “PARDON me, boy, this is the man who knew to choose you.”

  71. The reference (for those not familiar with big-band jazz of the WWII era).

  72. I was in the Air Force over 20 years ago, and I’m from NY. I had all my training in Texas and I was dumbfounded when I first heard people saying this… along with “fixin’ to…”

    “Hey, did you see that?”

    “Do what?”


  73. I never heard this till I moved to north Texas; I grew up in the midwest. It makes me crazy! It just doesn’t sound very educated to me. I have used the phrase “say again” though, so maybe I shouldn’t be so judgemental!

  74. Practically every single person in Arkansas uses “Do what?” To mean “I didn’t hear you.” I never noticed it until I moved to California an teased by my friends there for it. Now I can’t stop noticing it. Lol.

  75. Jeff Williams says

    I also live in Arkansas and everyone says it here and it drives me nuts! People here use it as a response for any question, even when it won’t make any sense. For Instance: Q -“What time is it? ” A- ” Do What?”
    I didn’t ask you to DO anything. I asked what time it was ! Ahhhhhhhhh !!!!

  76. In San Diego, I had a roommate from Texas that I first heard this from in around 1992. I loved it as it sounds as if you’re baffled about what you’re responding to. i.e. Someone says or suggests something really dumb, and I respond “Do what?”

    It’s not like they suggested me to “do” anything – but the rest of their sentence made so little sense (usually in a specific context) that I can look at them dumbfounded and ask “Do what?” or “Do what again?”

    I wouldn’t use it in answer to a reasonably articulated sentence – just when they’re assuming too much, or just not making sense.

  77. Rick Shepherd says

    I was raised in southwestern Indiana on the Ohio River….Lived part of my adult life there….Then in central Ohio for 25 years…. Now retired to the North Georgia Mountains…. I have always used “Do What?” in the context of being incredulous when asked to do something I may not agree with or believe in…..Sometimes when someone tells me of something astounding someone else has done…..haha

  78. I grew up in IL, but I’ve used it and heard it used. However, my dad was in the military and lived many places prior (and shortly after) me being born. One of those places was TX; it’s possible that he picked it up there and passed it on to me. I thought I’d heard other people use it outside of my house growing up but, I could be misremembering or they could have picked it up from me (or television/movies).

  79. It’s the same as saying ‘what?’ when you didn’t quite catch what someone said. Southerners probably add the word ‘do’ in front of the word ‘what’ because it sounds a little more folksy and polite than just blurting out ‘what?’

  80. David Marjanović says

    But why does it sound folksy to anyone? Probably only because they’re used to it.

  81. Honestly, I think I hear “Do what, now?” more than just “Do what?” and it definitely has a Southern, folksy feel—although that could just be because I am used to thinking of it as folksy.

  82. ELISE J MURPHY says


  83. ELISE J MURPHY says


  84. Personal to EJM: Please press your CAPS LOCK button again so you won’t appear to be shouting.

  85. Stu Clayton says

    come again ?

  86. EJM just wanted to make sure you heard her, so you didn’t have to reply with Do what?

    I rarely hear “excuse me?” as a way of asking someone to repeat themselves except aggressively. In fact, it didn’t occur to me as a normal usage of excuse me when first reading the topic, so initially, I was imagining someone farting and then saying “Do what?” and trying to understand it that way, perhaps as misdirection. “What did someone just do?”

    Unfortunately, the phrase isn’t endemic in my family, or I’d definitely start using it that way.

  87. >we hosted an exchange student from Mexico when I was in high school, and he said “Que cosa?”

    Not at all an expert, but my memory is that that’s common in Rome as well. As “Che cosa?” of course.

  88. The Phrase Do-What sounds so red-neck and uneducated. I live in Arkansas and work with people one in particular recently graduated from College and they go around saying do what all day long !!! It seems to be generally accepted but I cannot stand it !!! I am not a prude or a snob but i have never said do what. When I don’t hear or understand someone I say pardon.

  89. Tammy Florey says

    Everyone here in East Texas has always said it. I teach 7th graders and they say it to me all the time too…so it’s not just an old timer thing.

  90. Good to know it’s still flourishing!

  91. I lived in a rural part of Missouri for a little over a decade and catch myself saying it now that I’ve moved out-of-state. I grew up an Ohioan and don’t remember getting it from there, so I’m attributing it to Missouri, at least in my case. 🙂

  92. School Teachers should “teach” their students that do-what is NOT a word look it up in the dictionary it’s not there. They should also tell their students that do-what will not be tolerated in the classroom. The correct word or phrase is pardon, pardon-me, excuse-me, can you repeat that, if you want to sound like an un-educated Hillbilly go ahead and say it all you want !!

  93. David Eddyshaw says

    Do what?

  94. David Eddyshaw says

    The correct term is, of course: “sorry?”

    “Pardon?” is paradigmatically non-U, though of course an American may be forgiven for not understanding these things. Not everyone has had our advantages.

  95. PlasticPaddy says

    I was unaware that there were educated Hillbillies. How does their speech differ from that of the un-educated ones? Do they use other letters beside XXX on their jugs of homemade whisky?

  96. Educated Fool (by Flat Foot Sam and The Educated Fools).

  97. Denomination Blues (“Well, you can go to your college, you can go to your school/ But if you ain’t got Jesus, you’s an educated fool”) — thegrowlingwolf loved this song.

  98. The working class say “Aye?”; the lower middle class, “Pardon?”; the middle class, “Sorry?”; and the upper class, “What?” — Terry Eagleton, 2003–2014

    Tatler examines these and other options.

  99. No, said the Cincinnatian, the correct word is “please?”

    Love patricias punctuation such as it is perhaps shes overwrought ps Im a West virginian with a phd in comparative literature.

  100. and the upper class, “What?”

    The true aristocrats say this with a fearsome glint of the eye, so as to convey that any misunderstanding is entirely the speaker’s fault.

  101. To an American, “I beg your pardon,” sounds almost stiltedly polite—possibly because it is so characteristically British. Practically no one in America except Anglophiles has any idea that it is such a strong non-U class indicator in England. (I think I only learned it from a gossip piece I read in the early 2000s, about how some members of the royal family disliked Kate Middleton’s mother, on account of her frequent use of, “I beg your pardon?”) The importance of the phrase as a shibboleth does explain, however, why Gandalf initially teases Bilbo about using it (although not as much as he teases him about “Good morning”).

  102. “Begpardon?” is polite but not as formal.
    I use “ʔm?” a lot.

  103. David Marjanović says

    School Teachers should “teach” their students

    But not really teach them, only “teach” them, if you catch my drift.

    No, said the Cincinnatian, the correct word is “please?”

    Reminds me of polite (and sarcastic) German.

    Educated Fool

    Educated stupid!

  104. David Marjanović:

    But not really teach them, only “teach” them, if you catch my drift.

    With the wrong inflection for those quotes, that could sound super creepy.

  105. I could understand the “wrong inflection” version if applied to a teacher whose razzle-dazzle actually gets students to learn something, as viewed from the perspective of their boring colleagues. It so happens I watched a movie last night that made this a (sub)plot point: an astronomer tries to teach a middle-school science club something, qua visiting expert, and it comes out mere verbal explanations, winding up with “thermonic emssion”.

    The scene reminded me at once of Feynman quoting at random from a Brazilian physics textbook: “Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the light emitted when crystals are crushed…”, which of course is a mere dictionary definition. He suggests replacing it by “When you take a lump of sugar and crush it with a pair of pliers in the dark, you can see a bluish flash. Some other crystals do that too. Nobody knows why. The phenomenon is called ‘triboluminescence.'”

    Our heroine takes the advice given by her own former science teacher (it’s a small town, as always in these movies), and two or three lessons later the class is doing a lab on making your own candy canes, which involves a supersaturated solution of sugar, though she doesn’t use the term.

    It occurs to me now that triboluminescence could be defined in complete accordance with its etymology as ‘the glow one gets after a successful session of tribadism’.

  106. Now I have been inspired to investigate the fate of the old-time Chicago blues club yclept the Wise Fools Pub, which I hadn’t thought much about since moving away from Chicago in ’92. Story seems to be that new ownership in ’93 changed both the name and the music-booking policy, another round of new ownership early in the current millennium revived the Wise Fools name but not so much the booking policy, with blues acts as an occasional nod to the history rather than a walk-in-any-night-and-that’s-what-you’ll-hear thing, and then the pandemic shut it down with it now seeming unclear at best whether it will reopen when the coast is clear epidemiologically.

  107. @David M: Cincinnati is a traditionally German and often sarcastic city.

  108. @J.W. Brewer: The Kingston Mines is still apparently open, although trying to social distance there would be a nightmare. The last time I was there, at my cousin’s bachelor party, we can’t have been more than six feet from some of the performers.

  109. Dowhat Now? says

    “Do what?” and “Do what now?” are used by ignorant rednecks in West Texas. It annoys the hell out of me. Practically every other word out of their stupid mouths is some variation of “Do what?” If you want to sound like an uneducated, ignorant redneck, then keep saying “Do what?”

  110. David Eddyshaw says

    My dear fellow!
    (You are a fellow, I take it? Is Dowhat a boy’s name in Texas? If not, my dear lady!)

    I cannot thank you enough!

    I have been trying for literally years to sound like an uneducated, ignorant redneck, but for all my efforts I have always been conscious of lacking some je ne sais quoi. Friends have suggested that it may be the Latin, but this seems implausible, as I am at all times scrupulous in avoiding the Public School pronunciation so sadly characteristic of those of my background.

    Now a new life awaits me at last!

    PS: I hope you will not get into trouble for divulging this?

  111. John Cowan says

    However, sarcastic I beg your pardon? ‘What the fuck did you just say to me?’, with low-high tones on the last word, is alive and well in AmE. It’s closely related semantically to Excuse you?

  112. PlasticPaddy says

    Previous correspondents do not seem to be aware that “Do what” is a misunderstanding of the Irish “Dia dhuit?”, which therefore parallels the expression “hello?” in the speech of ignorant non-rednecks. A letter to the editor of a prestigious Texas daily newspaper on this subject is being prepared as we speak. Although I am told rednecks mainly use this newspaper as a base for placing their stills on (as well as for other purposes which render the text completely illegible), it is hoped that they may benefit from this knowledge.

  113. David Eddyshaw says

    Although I am told rednecks mainly use this newspaper as a base for placing their stills on (as well as for other purposes which render the text completely illegible), it is hoped that they may benefit from this knowledge.

    We can hope that osmosis will come into play. Indeed, if this experiment prove successful, numerous applications beckon. An appropriate legal framework would be needed to deal with the obvious ethical problems which may arise.

  114. Someone once discovered that if you keep saying (English, with Russian accent) culturesculturesculturescultures for some time,you arrive to phonetically almost accurate Russian-working-class-youth-aggressive-mode t͡ʃə skʌ:l? “what said?”

    I am not sure about IPA signs used above, but the point is: Russian-working-class-youth-aggressive-mode is phonologically different from Russian. (Maybe ESL teachers could find some use for this exercise, if they learn aforementioned mode?)

  115. “Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the light emitted when crystals are crushed…”,
    “When you take a lump of sugar and crush it with a pair of pliers in the dark, you can see a bluish flash. Some other crystals do that too. Nobody knows why. The phenomenon is called ‘triboluminescence.’”

  116. (You are a fellow, I take it? Is Dowhat a boy’s name in Texas? If not, my dear lady!)

    A pertinent question, but you have neglected the curious surname Now? — presumably showing an unusual graphic representation of a final glottal stop.

  117. George White says

    I grew up in Louisville and went to school in Nashville. I always thought “do what?” and “do what now” were Louisville phrases……………..looks like lots of other area use this

  118. Matthew Martin says

    I use it pretty regular.
    -Mark Twain

  119. The expression is alive and well in South Georgia.

  120. Though perhaps not so much in the South Georgia Islands.

  121. Nor, I suppose, in Kvemo Kartli.

  122. I am 70. and my dad, who grew up in Southern Illinois, Always said, “Do what?” when he didn’t hear what you were trying to tell him. Now, my nephew, who grew up in a nice Tennessee city, Always says, “Do what?” if he didn’t hear something, and when I observed this to him, he had no idea that he said that! It didn’t take long to tell him, “Yes, you just said it,” and he was surprised and said, “I did??!” It’s very prevalent in the South, and Southern Illinois too. I love hearing it.

  123. JohnDenverEatsFiddlesForBreakfast says

    North Texas here… the way it’s said and where the inflection is placed also alters its meaning.

    A short “do what?” with no pitch rise indicates that the speaker genuinely did not understand what you said, or what you said didn’t make any sense. Its equivalent to a “huh?” or a simple “what?”

    A longer, louder “do what??!!” with a pitch rise and emphasis on the what indicates that the speaker heard and understood you, but is showing suprise or disbelief. Akin to “no way!!”

    A modified version, such as “do what now?” or “do fuckin’ what?” indicates extreme shock or disbelief.
    More like a “no fuckin’ way!!”

  124. anonymous says

    January First-of-May says
    June 14, 2016 at 5:25 pm
    The whole “rudeness” divide reminds me of Russian чего? – which is considered colloquial and slightly rude – as opposed to more traditional что? (literally “what”).
    I’m not sure how to explain the literal meaning difference in English, however.

    My mother would often say чего when she heard me say something ridiculous or silly. She’d say что in other cases: normally, but also if she was angry at me she’d really stress that chto LOL. But sometimes she’d mix them up casually.

    I spent a few years in NC growing up and “do what” was said so much. It just means the person didn’t hear you clearly or not understand what you were saying so repeat it again.

  125. Thanks for the чего/что story; it’s very helpful!

  126. When i moved from NJ to VA, i was telling a NJ friend that people were saying this and the only thing he knew the phrase from was a certain aqua teen hunger force episode when meatwad was braindead for some reason and kept repeating it. He was amazed. Now im in arizona and i keep hearing it. Maybe its social media making language trends more fluid nowadays but i have heard this in quite a few places.

  127. Non regional diction says

    This is my pet peeve, only because it doesn’t make any logical sense. Do is a verb.

    I asked and older neighbor the other day how she was feeling, and I guess she didn’t hear me well, but her response was “do what?”

    I didn’t ask you to DO anything, so why is “do” part of the question/response? If you want to be polite, why can’t you just say “what was that”? Or “what did you say”?

  128. I learned English as a second language so all of this is incredibly fascinating to me. Thank you to everyone for contributing so far 👍👍👍

  129. Southeast Texas here. Never realized it was odd until I moved away and got mocked for saying it.

    I agree with an earlier commenter that it’s a politer form of “What did you say?” — to me that question would imply incredulity or disbelief, as well as sounding quite rude (Sorry Non regional diction! Along the same lines, “What was that?” is the kind of thing you would say if you wanted someone to stop bothering you). “Do what?” means “oh I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you, can you repeat that?”

    I’ve always used it only in casual conversation (e.g. family/friends, but not your boss), and only ever to ask someone to repeat what they said because I didn’t hear it. In a more formal situation, I would say “Sorry?” Only for a VERY formal occasion would I say “Excuse me?” — it comes off as rude otherwise.

    On a related note, I’ve very rarely heard “do WHAT now?”in the sense of “that’s unbelievable!”. It’s much more common to say “Say WHAT?” Or just “what?” with a strong interrogative tone.

    It’s so interesting to read about phrases like this! Taking a page out of ESL Jane’s book to thank everyone who offered their experiences.

  130. jack morava says

    … you remind me of a man …

    …. what man?

    …. the man with the power

    … what power?

    … the power of hoodoo

    … who do?

    … you do !

    … do what ? …

  131. @jack morava: People my age only know that shtick from David Bowie and the goblins in Labyrinth.

  132. @Brett: Some of us had parents who liked to recite the “man” version before we ever say Labyrinth

  133. “Hinchmy and Pinchmy sat in a boat, and Hinchmy fell out. Who was left in the boat?”


    [parent pinches child]

  134. jack morava says

    @Brett, thanks: that little ditty was running for some reason though my head recently and I suddenly noticed the `do what’ tag. I think it lodged in my memory (don’t know about Bowie’s Labyrinth somehow) from Frank M Robinson’s `The Power’ (one of the better scary telepathy novels to read as a 12-yr-old IIRC).

  135. But that’s just a normal use of “do” and “what”, not the regionalism.

    I think I encountered it in some children’s book in the ’70s, long before “Labyrinth”.

  136. I came to this thread because I’ve been visiting my in-laws in north Texas. During this visit, their “do what now” response has been more noticeable than ever – and a bit annoying. Like others have mentioned, I did not ask anyone to “do” anything. I am originally from CA and currently living in FL, two places where you’ll never hear it. I say “what’s that again?” when I didn’t hear someone.

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